The Philosophy of Yoga
The word “yoga” has become so familiar to us today that I suspect for the vast majority of people, including those who attend yoga classes, the term has lost its original meaning. For myself, on the one hand, I applaud the great interest in Eastern mysticism that has been spreading rapidly throughout the Western hemisphere since the 1960s, but I despair concerning the adulteration of it to Western tastes and likings.
There are many branches of the Yoga system that have been cultivated in Western soil and have, in turn, rooted and branched out into their own Westernized forms of yoga. It is now very trendy to witness celebrities displaying their grip on these tricky Indian postures, and we even see glossy magazines disporting images of muscled, pseudo-gurus wearing bandanas and dripping in sweat so that yoga will appeal as yet another sexed-up tool for getting what you want and being attractive to others.
The Meaning of Yoga
But is this yoga? Let us examine the actual meaning of the word: “Yoga” comes from the ancient Indian Sanskrit language, and it literally means union or a 'yoke' which implies uniting with something. This meaning specifically refers directly to union with God. There are principally four main methods of attaining this union with God through the systems of Karma Yoga, Bhakti Yoga, Raja Yoga and Jnana Yoga.
This practice involves the individual becoming engaged in unselfish service to mankind.
Bhakti is the path of devotional service to God, to the guru and to religion.
Raja Yoga is a process of focussing the mind in contemplation, introspection and meditation.
Jnana is the way of the student of scriptural wisdom who studies the nature of the true inner Self and gains spiritual knowledge thereby.
All of these paths, either practiced individually or simultaneously, lead the earnest yoga practitioner back to the Godhead. Through these systems, he or she attains union with the Divine. Because yoga means to bind, join or yoke together it is this imagery that one must ever bear in mind and heart when performing a posture, when holding that posture for a certain length of time, and concentrating on the special breathing techniques employed in yoga. The truest method of practicing yoga is the meditative method where the posture is held steady and the mind goes inward.
Hatha Yoga is perhaps the purest form of the ancient Indian schools of yoga because its goal is to control, regulate and direct the mystical prana (also known as chi force) and hence surmount the vices of the physical body and lower nature. Yet what we see in many Western countries now are so-called “Astanga yoga” and “hot yoga" which are engaged in as a form of gymnastics, primarily as a work-out rather than as a spiritual practice and discipline.
This practice originated from the methods expounded by the ancient sage Patanjali, known as the Eight Limbs of Yoga which were originally considered to be spiritual practices. Since that time, the so-called Ashtanga yoga extant today is very far removed from the spiritually purifying method of Patanjali’s system.
Yoga is a Spiritual Practice
People from every walk of life go along to yoga classes to receive instruction in the many yoga postures completely ignorant of the spiritual training which these postures are meant to impart to the practitioner. Most yoga classes leave little or no time for meditation at the end of the class and no sense of spiritual dedication at the beginning either. Yoga has now been thoroughly Westernized, marketed and packaged as a fitness regime completely lacking in any instruction regarding the original and central concept of yoga—union with God.
There is no effort whatsoever to teach the students about morals, virtues or right conduct, and no linking of the posture with the concept of holding the mind on developing the virtues that the posture is supposed to be imparting. It has become nothing more than a series of gymnastic exercises that cater to the physical body only, so that the practitioner becomes a marionette devoid of soul qualities.
Yoga was designed to change the individual inwardly, not pander to the individual’s need to pose and strut. We hear many people talking about yoga, but we hear few actually understanding that it is ultimately intended to serve the higher good.
That does not mean, however, that there are no Western yoga teachers instructing yoga in the original and spiritual format; of course there are such teachers, and the ones that do follow the spiritual guidelines of yoga are doing the yoga system a great credit.
It is true that the postures of yoga will help to heal the body of many diseased conditions and physical misalignments will vanish with regular yoga practice if followed and applied correctly. It will also assist greatly in helping the wounded heart to heal and will steady and calm the mind. But as great as these effects are, it is so much more than that. It is principally a method of spiritual instruction, enacted through the body but with a heart of devotion and a focussed mind yoked to the Godhead.
Yoga is intended to drive us deeper into the true nature of the inner Self and to unfold our soul qualities like the lotus flower opening upon the still, calm waters. Without such a guiding principle behind yoga practice, the so-called yoga of the West is nothing more than another fitness gimmick.
The incredible benefits of yoga postures such as the Headstand, the Plough, Shoulder Stand, Seated Forward Bend and Seated Spinal Twist, to name but a few in the vast yoga repertoire, are very far-reaching and even life-transforming. These postures alone can heal an ailing body, a broken heart and a distressed mind if correctly held with yoga breathing techniques and devotion. Amongst the best forms of Hatha Yoga, mentioned above, are those promulgated by B.K.S Iyengar and Swami Sivananda. Iyengar’s excellent book Light on Yoga is a standard work on the subject.
I have found that prayer in a yoga posture can be very powerful and answers will come directly. The reason these answers are received is because the whole being is engaged in the prayer, there is a one-pointed focus, free of distractions, where all of the mind, heart and body are involved. It is pure, concentrated, energy.
I often hold a posture such as Spinal Twist and mentally pray with eyes closed and the mind fixed at the point between the eyebrows. This can be very effective either for yourself or for someone else in need of your help. In such a posture, you are holding everything in one place ~ the body through the posture, the emotions are held in check through the breathing and the mind is on one point as the Higher Self is connecting to the Godhead. Eventually, even the breath becomes suspended after several minutes of such focus.
Jesus said, “If thine eye be single, thy whole body will be filled with light.” To me, this is the true purpose of yoga, or union, that of holding all things, body, breath, emotions, mind and soul on one single point. That point is union with the Supreme and that is the essence of yoga.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
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© 2018 S P Austen